Get to Know Berkeley Heights Board of Education Candidate Helen Kirsch
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 • 7:18pm
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In preparation for the Berkeley Heights Board of Education election, questions were submitted to each candidate to give residents insight into why they are running and how they feel they can contribute to the Berkeley Heights school district.
There are four candidates running for three open seats on the Board of Education. The candidates are incumbents Helen Kirsch, John Sincaglia and Denis Smalley and first time candidate Carl D'Emilio.
GET TO KNOW BERKELEY HEIGHTS INCUMBENT BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATE HELEN KIRSCH
1. What is your background and connection to our schools? What experience do you have in our schools and in education?
We moved to Berkeley Heights when I was just four. I attended the Berkeley Heights schools as did my three children and I am very excited to have two of my grandchildren enrolled at Mary Kay McMillan Early Childhood Center. I certainly have a stake in the Berkeley Heights educational system.
I was a very active PTA member before running for the Board of Education thirty years ago. During my tenure on the board some of the most significant transformations included moving the sixth grade to Columbia converting it from a Junior High to a Middle School, re-opening Hamilton Terrace as an Early Childhood Center, and after playing a significant role in the dissolution of the Union County Regional High School District, Governor Livingston became part of the Berkeley Heights School District. That move alone has generated significant tax dollar savings. Our cost per high school pupil today is still less than the per pupil cost we were paying to the Regional District thirteen years ago.
In addition to serving on our local BOE, I am on the Executive Committee of the County School Board Association, represent Union County as a member of the NJ School Boards Association Board of Directors and I represent Berkeley Heights and serve as president of the Union County Educational Services Commission Board of Directors.
2. What academic areas are the district's strengths and weaknesses? What should be the top 2 priorities for the Board of Ed in 2014 and beyond?
Our students consistently do well in all the academic areas. However as standards change and in preparation for the new and evolving 21st century skills requirements, we need to continue to focus on critical thinking skills as well as reading and writing proficiencies geared more towards non-fiction and responsive forms of writing.
Priorities continue to be insuring that every child reaches their fullest potential and that our students grow and achieve as well rounded and successful individuals. Student achievement, what it means and how we measure it, has to stay at the forefront.
3. How meaningful is the district's ranking and standardized test results and should we make any changes accordingly?
Certainly the district’s ranking and standardized test results are a barometer of how the district is doing and should be taken seriously, as our administration does. Each year results are scrutinized and areas that need attention are identified and changes to curriculum are made as warranted. However, we must keep in mind that some classes as a whole out-perform others and I am comfortable with the fact that we consistently do well.
All students are not high academic achievers gearing their studies towards their secondary education. We must continue to offer and expand knowledge of other career opportunities for those students not college bound.
To me equally as important as test scores is providing a well-rounded educational experience for all our students. We must continue to strive to keep music, the arts and other unique areas of study in our course offerings in addition to the challenging core course requirements.
4. What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the Board of Ed in the next few years?
It is almost impossible to isolate one challenge that the Board will be facing in the next few years. There is a combination of factors that challenge us now and will continue to do so in the future. At the top of the list is limited funding to meet the needs of increased unfunded state mandates, the implementation of core curricular and standards changes, and continuous technology updates to name a few in the area of academics. And, we can’t forget our facilities. All of our buildings are 40-plus years old. Those of us that own older homes know that there are always repairs that need to be addressed and required updates. It is important for us to provide a facility that is safe and in good condition for our children. We have to carefully think about where we are going and how best to get there.
5. What do you think of the role of technology in our schools? (iPads, on-line classes, and use of technology as tools for teaching.)
Technology has the potential to excite and engage children on their own level making them more enthusiastic learners. I believe technology is critical in helping our children prepare for their futures. It can be an amazing tool in the hands of skilled teachers to better differentiate lessons to help all children reach their highest potential. It is our responsibility to insure that we are researching the very best options available to teach our students, be it using technology as a teaching tool, to access on-line text books or on-line classes, or whatever the future may hold. To achieve that goal we must offer our staff extensive support and professional development so they are comfortable using the available technology subsequently effectively incorporating technology into their classrooms.